INNOVATION IS THE KEY TO SHIFT SOCIAL PROBLEMS

Last year(2014) a friend whom I call the goddess of Start up – Nicole Williamson – introduced me to the parallel universe of tech and start up – I was mesmerized by the innovation and the hunger for creation. I’m so grateful to Nicole for introducing me to her world and being so generous to take me along to the numerous events occurring in Sydney that foster, inspire and nurture innovation. It got me thinking how amazing it would be to apply these worlds and their methods to solve wicked social problems?

If you look at history, innovation doesn't

Id spent many years (almost 30) in the vortex of policy, government, NGO and social disadvantage – getting frustrated at the seeming futility of hundreds of billions of dollars being plowed into disadvantage with little result – even worse I started to see that the return on investment (ROI) really sucked! Even worse – people’s lives are at stake and disadvantage is growing exponentially despite the investment of money, programs and attention.

Innovation is key – really, there is no other way because we have enough and we definitely can do better to protect the most vulnerable people. Solutions are really not that hard, they just require new thinking, thought leadership from across sectors and disciplines to apply their minds to these messy problems like domestic and family violence, recidivism, homelessness, disability and unemployment. Our current approaches are failing, even if some would argue that there has been some progress, its too slow and too many people are falling through the cracks.

This week, April 2015, NSW Premier Mike Baird announced a new Ministry, most exciting for the startup and tech communities was the re-appointment of the Hon. Dominic Perrottet as Minister for Finance and Services and the new appointment of the Hon. Victor Dominello as Minister for Innovation.

Its not enough to get NSW moving without some bold moves including the lease of poles and wires to fund long overdue infrastructure and the commitment by the Premier, Brendan Lyon, CEO of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Tracy Howe, CEO of NCOSS and the Minister for Family and Community Services to contribute $1b to social housing. Its exciting to think of the opportunities that lie in exchange of ideas across sectors as to how we could turn that $1b into ten times more to create new solutions to social housing, shelter and homelessness

“Innovation is a hard, messy process with no shortcuts. It starts with making something that you’d like to use and that might make people’s lives better.” Guy Kawasaki

The fact that innovation is messy makes it hard for risk averse public servants to embrace its tenets – risk, failure, courage, disruption. However there seems to be a growing appetite for innovation in the public sector like the Premiers Innovation Initiative (NSW), Transport for NSW Customer Central innovation hub Andrew Kendall showed me, the endless open data, open government initiatives by NSW Minister for Finance and Services Dominic Perrottet’s Finance and Services and Apps4NSW and Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s GovHack,

I believe having a Minister for Innovation brings all this together – its an opportunity for Minister Victor Dominello to identify and implement innovation across public sector agencies. It demonstrates a desire and necessity to innovate our responses to big problems, including wicked social problems. It will be great to have an innovation lens applied across portfolios, can you imagine the possibilities of new thinking? I can – I have been inspired by so many individuals and companies out there applying their talent to help people.

I recently met UTS Professor Hung Nguyen who is inventing amazing enabling tools such as the aviator smart wheelchair ( see Youtube Clip here), his contribution is leveraging design and technology to innovate solutions to social care including falls prevention, diabetes and more! In March 2015, Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd., Fujitsu Ireland Ltd., and Fujitsu Limited announced they have “developed a technology that uses sensors, embedded in smart houses and worn by patients, for the early detection of abnormalities in motor functions that might otherwise go unnoticed.”

“Innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity.” Michael Porter

Traditional thinking has only taken us so far in being able to reduce social exclusion, marginalization and increase opportunity for disadvantaged people. Globally we are seeing a number of innovative solutions such as the rise of social entrepreneurship, of cooperatives and mutuals and of greater emphasis on collaboration. My hero – Ben Hecht CEO of Living Cities is a constant inspiration in his vision to connect opportunity to disadvantage that is transforming lives in some of the most vulnerable people in the USA.

“We take risks, catalyze fresh thinking in order to test new approaches in order to creatively disrupt the status quo.” Living Cities

We can learn a great deal about how to emulate this to extend the $1billion anticipated for social housing in NSW and address the valid concerns of the homelessness and housing affordability sectors to ensure that we can really do something that will meet growing challenges!

So I hope that this trend continues and that we as a society continue to look outward, that we collaborate and innovate out of any problem!

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